Colorful Celebration of Rato Machhendranath

Nepal is a beautiful country filled with culture and ancient religious festivals of all sorts. Peculiar to many foreigners, these fuel the imagination and stir a sense of admiration in many visitors. Many of the festivals that take place in Nepal start off as a religious ceremony but end in a massive and enjoyable social event. Such is the case with Rato Machhendranath in Nepal.

Long before the Kathmandu Valley became a commercial hub, it served primarily as an agricultural hub. This difficult and labor intensive activity provided food for much of the region and the importance of a good crop could not be underestimated. Unfortunately there was only so much that the farmers could do, as the success of a crop depended mostly on the arrival of the rainy monsoon season. With rice being a primary crop, the excessive water brought by this annual phenomenon was vital. It still is vital for the crops grown on the outskirts of the Valley, but it seems that now commerce has taken over the hub. Nevertheless, the people of Nepal have not forgotten their origins. They still remember how vital the monsoon season has been and still is to the livelihood of their people and they still make use of the pre-monsoon season to worship Rato Machhendranath – a prominent rain god.

Rato Machhendranath could be directly translated as ‘Red May’ and so gives an indication as to the time of year that this ceremony takes place and the chief characteristic of the festivities that are held at this time. During Rato Machhendranath in Nepal, the streets of Patan simply come alive with color. Palace complexes are lit up with candle lights while women busy themselves with the cooking of sumptuous feasts. Once the actual ceremonies start, a large number of men engage in the activity of pulling Lord Machendranath’s chariot. As this striking red spectacle makes its way along the streets of the city, Lord Machhendranath is said to look down from the high seat of his chariot at the joyous proceedings that surround him. The four wheels of his chariot, which represent the Bhairab, are sprinkled with rice and vermilion powder. The chariot snakes its way along the city streets, leaving a very visible red trail in its wake. As he goes the ‘king of serpents’ reveals his glorious jeweled vest to the public and he is asked to give his blessings to passersby. The event is ended in a night of celebration and feasting and is hopefully followed not long afterwards by the refreshing monsoon season.